Za’atar

May 9, 2008

Za’atar is an aromatic spice mixture used in the Middle East. Like many spice mixtures, there are many variations, but all contain toasted white sesame seeds, ground sumac, thyme and salt. Za’atar has a unique pungent and zesty flavor.

A friend of mine got me Za’atar from Dubai (I love it when I get authentic stuff! :D). I have wanted it ever since I learned about Israeli cuisine some months ago and I finally have some wonderfully fragrant za’atar that will last me for a good one year at the least.

The type of za’atar mix differs depending on the region. My mix contains thyme, sesame, sumac, caraway, dill, turmeric, roasted wheat, salt and vegetable oil. With so much za’atar at hand, I found out some fun ways of using them. I’ve found a bunch of things with I could use it, one of the experiments was a za’atar chicken pilaf – a tad less hot for my taste, but quite flavourful and fragrant.

Za’atar can be used as a tabletop condiment – I say, sprinkle away on anything you eat. This is a good way to judge how much it complements your regular food. For a nice appetizer, cut pita bread into wedges, sprinkle with za’atar and olive oil and bake for 5 minutes at 200°C. Za’atar is used as a seasoning for meats and vegetables. It can be mixed with olive oil to make a spread or you could add some to a bottle of olive oil for the flavours to infuse – but this should be consumed quickly. It tastes so good when sprinkled on some garlic rice. I love a thick layer of za’atar and olive oil paste as a part of as a savory tart (mankeesh Za’atar). A few days ago I made some Shish Taouk and garlic rice sprinkled with za’atar. It was so good. But that’s makes for another post. Za’atar is often sprinkled on hummus too. I’m so excited about using this versatile herb mix for a ton of creative experiments!

Labneh
After hearing so much about labneh I thought I’d make some of my own today. I bought some full fat milk (to make it so, so creamy) to set some fresh yoghurt. What you’ll need:

Yoghurt
Salt
A clove of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Za’atar

Here are the steps I followed:

  1. Hung the yoghurt in a muslin cloth for a couple of hours until all the whey drained out (about 3 hours).
  2. Mixed the drained yoghurt with some salt and a whole clove of garlic until it had a hint of the flavour and then I tossed it out (since raw garlic can be so overpowering).
  3. Spoon the creamy mixture on a plate and splash with some extra virgin olive oil.
  4. Finally, sprinkle with lots and lots of za’atar!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 arjwiz May 10, 2008 at 2:41 PM

The labneh looks so tempting. I remember eating it as a child. It tastes good with anything. I guess the only trick is to use the best yogurt out there which hasn’t turned sour.

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2 foodhuntress May 11, 2008 at 9:53 AM

Hi Coco, long time, no visit on your page! :p Went on a lazy ‘blog vacation’myself. Great thing I opened with a very nice spice feature here. Just bought an Indian cookbook last week, and I am very curious about toasted wheat. Can you describe it? Thanks. :)

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3 Shaheen May 11, 2008 at 1:32 PM

With so many things happening, the blog took a backseat. Indian cookbook? I’m waiting for you to blog about it!
I was slightly surprised when I read that the za’atar has roasted wheat in it. I wonder what it brings to the mix. We’ve used roasted wheat for some sweet dished at home called “seera/sheera” and “lapsi”. These are some traditional treats. Google it and you’ll know what it looks like.

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4 Cynthia May 20, 2008 at 4:54 AM

It is not an attractive quality, I know but I have to admit it: I am jealous :)

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5 Purva Desai October 30, 2008 at 4:14 PM

thanks for adding me as a friend you have a yummy blog…..
Keep in touch
Purva
Purva’s Daawat

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6 Shaheen November 1, 2008 at 9:03 AM

Thank you, Purva! :)

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7 Jesse December 12, 2008 at 4:08 AM

I LOVE za’atar. I smear it on flat bread with olive oil and extra sumac… because that way it’s flavor isn’t impeded by anything else. It’s fantastic!

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8 Jenn Sutherland December 12, 2008 at 7:29 AM

I’m a zaatar fan too – in the summer, I like to marinate cubes of lamb with zaatar, red wine, and a bit of garlic overnight, and then kabob and grill them – YUM!

Thankfully, the zaatar at my local spice shop does not have the roasted wheat in it, as I am gluten-free.

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9 haleysuzanne December 12, 2008 at 9:50 AM

I adore za’atar. There’s a very tiny Middle Eastern market in my town attached to a tasty restaurant called The Sultan. Yum. I love to marinate chicken – skin on – in just olive oil and za’atar. It marinates overnight, and then I roast it for about an hour, starting at 425 to crisp up the skin, and lowering the temp to 350 to keep the meat moist. Delicious!

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10 Michael Natkin December 12, 2008 at 11:37 AM

Here’s an offbeat use for it… on a pizza with garlic scapes and ricotta: http://herbivoracious.com/2008/07/garlic-scape-ri.html

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11 Zoe December 12, 2008 at 8:16 PM

I mix it with flour and water until it resembles pancake mix, and then I cook it like I would a pancake, only with olive oil instead of butter. That’s the way I learned to eat it when I went hiking in Israel. Delicious.

In fact, I think I may have some za’atar tucked away in the spice cabinet from when my mother went to Israel this August…

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12 Cyd December 12, 2008 at 11:20 PM

I'm not a big fan of za'atar but my dad makes a pretty good meal out of it. Basically he pounds the za'atar with sesame seeds and olive oil. Then he spreads them on pita bread or puff paratha, sprinkles a wee bit of cheddar on top, folds it over and grills. Totally delicious <3

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13 Anonymous December 12, 2008 at 11:31 PM

The first time I had Za’atar was in an arab neighborhood in Isreal. There was a woman selling bread baked on a little oven in the street with za’atar on it. Since then, i’ve loved it! my favorite way is fresh baked flat bread. I mix the za’atar with olive oil and after i’ve flipped the bread once, i spread the za’atar on to keep finish the cooking. the slight lemon flavor is so wonderful!

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14 Shaheen December 12, 2008 at 11:53 PM

Jesse: Just like you, I love an extra helping of sumac. I just got a packet full of it from Kuwait. Yum!

Jenn: Wow, I like the sound of your marinade – red wine with za’atar!

Haleysuzzane: Hey I think I should try a za’atar roast chicken soon.

Michael: Thanks for sharing your link. :)

Emma: This is by far the most different way of how one wold za’atar and I am intrigued!

Cyd: That’s my fave way too!

Thanks, everyone. I like how this post has brought together so many different methods of how one could use za’atar.

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15 Shaheen December 12, 2008 at 11:58 PM

Anon: isn’t za’atar and olive oil the best smell in the world when it’s heating up in the oven? Love it!

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16 Ghaith Hilal Nassar December 13, 2008 at 2:54 PM

to be honest it was quite annoying to see how you linked za’atar with israeli cuizine as za’atar and olive oil is knows as the Palestinian breakfast let alone manaqeesh are palestinian/lebanese anyways i’m really intrigued by the roast chken with za’atar, here in Palestine za’tar is not really used in cooking, rather thyme is and za’tar is just za’atar for eating or sprinkkling on labneh or hummus. so it’s interresting to see what you make of it. and finally it’s a lovely website :)

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17 Shaheen December 13, 2008 at 9:10 PM

Ghaith: Wow, I’m sorry to offend you with the Israeli linkage, but when I was at a food demo, one “chef” liberally used za’atar for his “Israeli” preparations. To be honest, that was the first time I had heard Za’atar being associated with Israeli cuisine too, but gave him the benefit of doubt. Whatever be the case, that got me to beg my friend coming from Kuwait to get a bag of za’atar and I’ve loved it since. I think I’ll make some labneh tomorrow. :D

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18 yehudis December 14, 2008 at 6:18 PM

Oh, please don’t get political about your zaatar!
I live in Jerusalem and we use zaatar all the time–I like mine with more sumac, so I add extra to my mix which is predominately straight ground eizov midbari (desert hyssop). I’ve had it in the wild straight off the bush in the Negev, but I like it better when it is ground and combined with traditional accompaniments. Generally, commercial preparations include citric actid powder as a cheaper substitute for the tang of sumac, so good zaatar that includes sumac is going to have a subtle reddish/fuschia cast.
I mix my zaatar and extra sumac with good olive oil and leave it in a glass flask to be used as a dip for my bread, and I especially love it on sheep feta or bulgarian cheese with salad and sometimes whole couscous, with good olives and olive oil.
It can also be used as a dry rub for roasting chicken, and as a topping with pine nuts on chumus.

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19 Shaheen December 14, 2008 at 11:32 PM

I am loving this discussion! Thanks, guys. :D

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20 elizabeth from pompano beach florida May 18, 2009 at 12:46 AM

food politics go figure? i had a druse boyfriend years ago from lebanon (his brothers sent him away to keep him alive in the late 80′s) and he made me this delicious lebanese “pizza.’ i have been looking for the name of the dish and it looks like this may have been it

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21 Anonymous September 29, 2009 at 1:45 PM

Yikes. It's crazy how people are so sensitive when others co-opt their culture and history–whether it's accurate or not. I mean, when the Palestinian holocaust (the naqba) of 1948 happened, many of the colonizing party felt that calling the expulsion of the indigenous population a catastrophe was misinformed. Likewise, when Israeli soldiers use Nazi tactics to oppress its Arab population, people seem to be sensitive to the German etymology of the term describing the tactics used. Still, this is just about food, and I don't intend to anger anyone because there were many arab jews who used the same ingredients for their cooking before the europeans moved in. just looking for a recipe to cook tomorrow ;)

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22 The Purple Foodie October 9, 2009 at 11:58 AM

You knew food politics could get this intense!

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23 Leeroy Johnson April 1, 2010 at 12:40 AM

Some of my Favorite dishes!!
It's not about being sensitive. It's just the fact that not only has Israel stolen the Land, Lives, Rights and Hopes of the Palestinian people in the most inhumane and unjust way and continues to do so until this very day, but they continue to ethnically cleanse a people of such rich culture by even stealing their FOOD?! but hey we're talking food here not politics right?
Anyway, Za'atar and Labneh paired up with some olives makes me want to run out and get some right now.

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24 Beverly September 7, 2010 at 12:03 PM

I love using Zaatar. There is a local store run by a lebanese family that imports their zaatar from home, I always buy it there, as I really like the blend. One of my favourite ways to use it is with chicken. Get some lovely dijon mustard and coat some large chicken breasts, then liberally apply zaatar and bake at 350 for about an hour. The zaatar/mustard combo somehow pulls all the fat out of the chicken skin and the result is thin and crispy and delicious. Great spice! Another favourite is to get some multigrain pitas with lots of flax seed, brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with zaatar and just heat in the oven until nice and warm, makes dipping in a nice garlic hummus a new experience!!

Just discovered the site, really enjoying it, thanks for all the new ideas.

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25 Beverly September 11, 2010 at 11:01 PM

Tried some zaatar on 6 fresh lamb loin chops (about 1.5 inches thick each) the other night. Used a garlic press and crushed about 6 cloves (one for each chop), mixed with olive oil and lemon and a generous portion of zaatar (this time with extra sumac). Poured over the lamb chops and let them sit for about an hour, then fried them in a cast iron pan on relatively high heat (turning once only, about 5 minutes a side so you get a crispy outside, but still rare in the centre). Outstanding! Served it with tabouli, some tsatziki (or you could use cucumber raita) and whole grain flax pitas (or you can use garlic na’an bread). I call this my Greek/Lebanese/Syrian/Indian combo platter! Add some garlic roast potatoes with rosemary or some cumin/tumeric basmati and you are good to go!

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26 Mini February 22, 2011 at 11:08 AM

Picked up some dill seeds on a whim, now am stuck. Help!

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27 sonya March 16, 2012 at 4:54 PM

i just came upon this website…was trying to find a recipe for the lebanese za’atar.
BEVERLY….what is the name of the store with the lebanese owners where you purchase your za’atar? also what town and state? i live in norman, ok…the ONLY thing i can find around here is za’atar from jordan. i have a little bit of lebanese za’atar that i am hoarding because i like the taste much much better. i would love to call them and see if they would ship it to me!
thanks!!!

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